Decades after his death, Sam Cooke's thrilling, seductive tenor remains one of the glories of American popular music. His compositions have inspired a multitude of covers, few of which manage to lay a finger on the original versions. And Cooke's vocal mannerisms--the melismatic swooping and yodeling he applied to key phrases--are still audible every time Aaron Neville opens his mouth (not to mention a host of other singers, from Rod Stewart to Aretha Franklin). Clearly, then, it was time for a full-dress biography, and Daniel Wolff has done a superlative job. He traces the singer's transformation from gospel prodigy, who hit the road with the Soul Stirrers at the tender age of 19, to secular star. Endlessly ambitious, Cooke never quite figured out how to juggle his sacred and profane instincts, and Wolff is particularly good on this balancing act, as well as on the racial politics of the music industry.
From Publishers Weekly
An important contribution to the history of pop music in mid-century, this work by freelance journalist Wolff in collaboration with singer Craine, guitarist and bandleader White and music researcher Tenenbaum follows the career of Sam Cooke (born Cook) from boy singer in his father's church choir to his murder in a cheap L.A. motel in 1964. Born in 1931 in the Mississippi Delta region, he and his family migrated to Chicago in the Depression. While still a teenager, he was picked to sing in a prestigious gospel group, the Soul Stirrers, in 1951. Later, he crossed over into secular music, where he had a string of hits, including the blockbuster "You Send Me." Handsome and well bred, he was irresistible to many women, married twice and fathered a number of children out of wedlock. The official version that he was shot by a woman during a fight raised many questions, but the LAPD, according to the authors, viewed Cooke as "just another dead nigger." Here we are offered more speculation about his sad end.
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